Equity is the New Equality Part 2: Affirmative Action
By Tyler Williams
Similar to the average bear, some political issues are fuzzy and confusing. Affirmative action is one of them since a lot of rhetoric and misconceptions have been taken out of context. Perhaps, let’s start with the basic definition of affirmative action, shall we?
According to the Oxford Languages, the definition of affirmative action is in the context of the allocation of resources or employment. “It is the practice or policy of favoring individuals belonging to groups known to have been discriminated against previously,” stated by the source. However, what is the main purpose of Affirmative action?
According to AllSides, Progressives typically use the term affirmative action as a positive reference, reflecting a way to intentionally reduce discriminatory bias (usually related to race), whether unconscious or deliberate. Specifically, affirmative action calls for the consideration of a person’s membership in a historically disadvantaged group in such matters as employment and college admission. To many progressives, this is something the U.S. society needs - as much today - to “level the playing field” so every American citizen has an equal chance to succeed. In the 1978 Supreme Court case that upheld a university’s right to use race as a factor in admission, Justice Harry Blackmun wrote, “In order to get beyond racism, we must first take account of race. There is no other way. And in order to treat some persons equally, we must treat them differently.” Mainly, the progressive perspective is that affirmative action will reduce bias within the workplace or education system. For example, Black Americans historically have been disenfranchised falling behind socioeconomic standards, thanks to Jim Crow laws. Their perspective is any group who has been mistreated in the past should receive help in order to right the wrongs of the past.
On the other hand, Conservatives have a contrarian take on Affirmative action. “Conservatives, meanwhile, typically use the same term as a negative reference, reflecting set-asides or quotas that violate traditional American ideals of meritocracy. For these people, the term carries connotations of ‘special treatment,’ injustice, and abuse, especially in cases where highly qualified applicants may have been denied employment or college admission because of their (usually white) race. To this group, the playing field is in danger of being (or has already been) ‘leveled’ to the point of injustice in the opposite direction. They believe that proper implementation of affirmative action only takes place when two candidates for a position are in all other respects equally qualified”, AllSides wrote.
From the conservative perspective, affirmative action is unjust because it gives certain groups of people special treatment aside from other groups. Additionally, it is referred to as “reverse racism” because they claim it discriminates against white people, regardless of experience and socioeconomic status. Thomas Sowell, economist and senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, states the following: “Many—if not most—people who are for or against affirmative action are for or against the theory of affirmative action. The factual question of what actually happens as a result of affirmative action policies receives remarkably little attention.” So, why not give it the attention it deserves. What actually happens as a result of affirmative action policies?
Here’s the unfair reality. Time reported that while people of color, individually and as groups, have been aided by affirmative action in the subsequent years, data and studies suggest women — white women in particular — have benefited disproportionately. According to one study, in 1995, 6 million women, the majority of whom were white, had jobs they wouldn’t have otherwise held if it wasn’t for affirmative action.
There are several myths and misconceptions when it comes to affirmative action. Some of the myths according to The Education Trust website are the following: “Few Americans support affirmative action”. The reality is, “Both Republicans and Democrats support affirmative action policies, according to a new poll by the Pew Charitable Trusts. It found that a significant amount of Americans (71 percent) support efforts to bolster minority admissions — up from 63 percent in 2014.”
Another major myth from the same source is “Affirmative action is a non-issue because it only impacts a small percentage of students.” Truthfully, “The fact is, America’s most elite colleges produce a disproportionate percentage of our country’s “powerful,” who have influence in business, politics, and other aspects of society — the overwhelming majority of whom are White.”
According to Connecticut’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity Affirmative Action Division, “Affirmative Action does not mean giving preference to any group. In fact, affirmative action stands for just the opposite. Included in the concept of affirmative action is the idea that all individuals must be treated equally and that a position should be given to the candidate most qualified. However, a hiring committee must make a good faith effort to create a pool of candidates, which reflects the number of women and minorities who possess proper training for the position.” This is in response to the myth that affirmative action is reverse discrimination.
Moreover, the myth of “affirmative action means establishing a quota system for women and minorities” is dispelled. The Office states: “There is a difference between goals and quotas. Ideally, the percentage of women and minorities working in a position should be similar to the percentage of women and minorities qualified for such positions. Affirmative action does not mean showing partiality but rather reaching out to candidates and treating them with fairness and equity.” When it comes to solutions for improving affirmative action, one of the solutions the Daily Caller reported comes from George Shen, founder of Asian Americans Against Affirmative Action. He proposes that affirmative action becomes socioeconomic based, rather than using race as a measure.
“If affirmative action intends to help the disadvantaged minorities who are really in need of help, it has to be socioeconomic based. Race has nothing to do with it. And race is a horrific proxy for the ones needing help. There are wealthy Blacks, Latinos, Asians, whites and there are poor racial and ethnic groups across racial lines,” Shen told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “Colleges should use socioeconomic status as a proxy to help disadvantaged minority students or any students for that matter. There are poor white kids who need help as well.”
An alternative solution is from Century Foundation senior fellows Halley Potter and Richard D. Kahlenberg. Potter says, “Since students of color are disproportionately low-income, programs that consider students’ socioeconomic backgrounds have the power to increase both economic and racial/ethnic diversity.” They stated three areas of reform that can potentially be a better alternative to affirmative action. The three actions of reform are to make changes to admissions to increase low-income students’ access, boost financial aid, and develop recruitment and support programs for low-income students.
At the end of the day, affirmative action should be given to the people who are disenfranchised. In order to avoid discriminatory practices, socioeconomic backgrounds should be looked at on a case by case basis. That way, there is no generalization and little room for error. Judging solely by race can be tricky because not every minority is destitute or struggling within the poverty and not every white person was born with a silver spoon in their mouth.
If anything, affirmative action would be more effective if every disenfranchised group was given land and resources without the control of the dominant society. That way, they can build themselves for future generations. Instead of filling quotas in college applications and jobs, fill in the wealth gap so that way everyone can thrive on their own. This is also proof that race in and of itself is a social construct, the only race in the world is the human race.
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